Taking music lessons as early as kindergarten and first grade has been positively linked to brain development in a new study conducted by researchers at Concordia University in collaboration with Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University.
Thirty-six adult musicians were tested on a movement tasks and had a portion of their brain scanned known as the corpus callosum. Previous studies have suggested that musical training might be related to greater amounts of white matter in this area which controls the flow of information between the left and right sides of the brain.
About half of the study volunteers had begun musical training before the age of seven while the other half began at a later age. However, the two groups had the same number of overall years of musical training and experience. In addition, the musicians were compared to a control group of individuals with little or no formal musical training.
Those who began music lessons early had enhanced white matter and stronger connections between motor regions – the parts of the brain that help you plan and carry out movements. For example, those musicians with early training showed more accurate timing. They also found that the younger the age at which the musician started, the greater the connectivity between the nerve fibers.
"Learning to play an instrument requires coordination between hands and with visual or auditory stimuli," says psychology professor Virginia Penhune. "Practicing an instrument before age seven likely boosts the normal maturation of connections between motor and sensory regions of the brain, creating a framework upon which ongoing training can build."
Musical training in childhood may also provide a lifelong boost to brain functioning, keeping the mind sharper even as we grow into our senior years.
“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” said Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, PhD, not involved with this study, but who has conducted research in the area previously. “
Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period. The Journal of Neuroscience, 16 January 2013, 33(3):1282-1290;